Top albums of 2015 advent calendar: Day 14
Tame Impala - Currents
Upon hearing Tame Impala's first album back in 2010, I doubt anyone would have predicted that their psych rock noodlings would evolve into alt-pop anthems merely two albums later. It's a trajectory that's been so sharp that many fans have been thrown overboard, clinging for life to the guitar riffs that have largely been eschewed on Currents. Kevin Parker seems to be addressing these people on opening track "Let It Happen," the seven minute mantra-come-festival-anthem boiling down one of life's simplest lessons: whatever happens, happens - you've got to hold on for the ride.
Those of us who have stuck with Parker on Currents are treated with the blossoming of one of this centuries great pop songwriters. Parker has proven on his previous two albums that he certainly has a knack for melodies, layering them, balancing them and knowing when to make the all-important dramatic denouement. On Currents he commands from the comforts of his synthesizers, largely uses simplistic click-track drum beats and puts his falsetto front and centre. These are the basic elements to create some of the most indelible pop songs in recent memory; the humour and drama in "'Cause I'm A Man," the melodramatic conclusivity of "Eventually," the strutting ignorance of "The Less I Know The Better" all shine through in this context and have turned them into hits, earning them new legions of fans, even if they may have lost a few.
Those who delve into the album further will come to appreciate that there is much precise detail in Parker's productions that still express the psychedelic qualities of his earlier work. "The Moment" would have easily fit onto Lonerism, as it evokes those same youthful, lustful midsummer yearnings, doing it with a boisterous and mobile armoury of interwoven rhythms. "Reality In Motion" similarly slows down time to appreciate the vibrancy of the world around it, the song's elements spinning around you like a majestic carousel. Even a song like "Past Life," which should be a complete disaster, as it uses a spoken word narrative about spotting an old flame and being sent down memory lane, turns out to be a loveable and sympathetic ballad as Parker's chorus is so perfectly balanced as to neutralise the saccharine message.
Lonerism was like Kevin Parker's admission of his previous shyness and reclusiveness - something that made me adore it and put it as my #1 album of 2012 - but with Currents he has entirely discarded his shell, and seems to be loving the limelight. The unsurprising thing is it loves him too; he's always been an extremely talented, contemplative and grounded person - and this still shines through even if the songs are ostensibly less intimate. He's turned his feelings into mesmerising neon headlines that everyone can appreciate, and he's finally getting the recognition he deserves.
Have I bought this album?: Yes on lovely coloured vinyl; the first is yellow and the second is purple.
Joanna Newsom - Divers
I have to first admit that I've never really been a proper Joanna Newsom fan; seeing her play at Latitude in 2008 was a definite treat, but when it came to her recorded material it always seemed interesting, but a lot of effort that didn't particularly entice me. To be fair, her last album was a 2-hour triple album that came out 5 years ago, when I was still much more unwilling to venture outside of indie/rock. So when Divers was announced some fans might have been disappointed that it was a relatively meagre 11 tracks spanning 52 minutes, but for someone who was an entry level Newsom listener it seemed it might be ideal.
As soon as I heard the early singles from Divers I had a feeling I would be spending a lot of time with the album. I'd always known Newsom was a virtuoso performer, but that was rammed home to me the first time (and every consequent time) I heard "Sapokanikan," where counter-moving piano melodies ascend and descend around each other making me literally dizzy, meanwhile Newsom is spinning off lyrics like:
"Beneath a Patch of Grass / her bones the old Dutch Master hid / while, elsewhere, Tobias and the Angel disguised / what the scholar surmised was a mother and kid / (interred with other daughters, in dirt, in other potters' fields)"
Literally detailing two rich narratives as interwoven as the music that backs them. Her lyrics throughout are ludicrously detailed and full of imagery that has inspired so much devotion to study and interpretation from her fans. Go have a look through her lyrics on genius and you'll find every single line annotated in detail that's sometimes just as difficult to parse as the lyrics themselves.
The studiousness of the words should by no means put off the casual listener though. For starters, Newsom's voice is a precious instrument in its own right, which she knows how to use dramatically and richly, and always remains utterly captivating no matter what she's singing about. Even the relatively simplistic street scenes painted in "Leaving The City" and "Same Old Man" behold so much charm and poise that they're as engrossing. The tiniest instances inspire utter beauty, take this from closing track "Time, As A Symptom":
"And every little gust that chances through / will dance in the dust of me and you / with joy-of-life / And in our perfect secret-keeping: / one ear of corn / in silent, reaping / Joy of life"
Then there are some moments on Divers that surely anyone with a soul would adore. "Waltz of the 101st Lightborne" is as equally magical and epic as its title suggests, the dazzling, elegant and sumptuous instrumentation bringing the angels' dance into reality. The dulcet tones of grand piano on the title track lure us down deep below the sea and into the depths of longing for lost love, and into crevices where we can "see how the infinite divides." The defiant "You Will Not Take My Heart Alive" is a show-stopping monument to the strength human love through which Newsom wafts like a heavenly being. Fans of the laid bare, harp-wielding Newsom of old will be more than sated by "A Pin-Light Bent," which finds her at her most delicate and open, conjuring beauty, pity and pure divination in perfect measure.
There's a part of me that's extremely glad that Divers has been my proper introduction to Joanna Newsom. Many of her older fans seem to have taken it for granted as another great album from her, while those who have only caught the bug now are falling head-over-heels over and over again every time we listen. I can't wait to go back and properly appreciate her back catalogue, but I honestly feel like that won't be for a while yet; I'm way too infatuated with Divers.
Have I bought this album?: Certainly, but Side 3 has a bad scratch, which is nothing short of a tragedy.